This morning, I did it. Put my name on the Extinction Rebellion mailing list so I can attend all the coming protests in Melbourne that don’t conflict with work.
What took me so long? Actually, I was in the same place in January 2019, as bushfires raged across the country, disrupting our precious three-day holiday break. But then COVID hit, and my attention was hijacked by a more imminent threat to body and life.
Now the time has come to refocus on the crisis facing the planet, and the rightness of the claim made by three generations of youth — including my own 20-somethings — that the future is not ours to ruin.
Yet, my generation continues to ruin it — less by the denial, doubt and stubborn inaction that have characterised the past 30 years (though Murdoch’s disinformation channels continue to punch above their weight) than with new and unconscionable laws that jail protesters, make it harder for them to make bail, and increase the amount they are fined.
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But the inconvenient truth has not changed: we must stabilise global temperatures at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times to stop sea levels rising, temperatures soaring and ecosystems collapsing. To do this, we must declare a climate emergency.
We saw during COVID what this pronouncement can achieve. The dedication of resources, the forming of a National Cabinet designed to implement robust interventions at lightning speed.
But how to yank the government into crisis mode? The truth is that it won’t happen without radical action, including civil disobedience. Because we were told 30 years ago how to avert the climate disaster at minimal cost and inconvenience, but vested interests ensured our governments didn’t listen.
We’ve seen this before. In India, where Gandhi had to refuse to obey the laws of the British occupiers to indict the empire for its exploitation and impoverishment of his people. We saw it with American slaveowners and racists, who resisted equal treatment for Black Americans until civil rights leaders defied custom and police to conduct sit-ins at diners and march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. We saw it with the right of women to vote, which male politicians denied for decades until suffragettes abandoned peaceful protest and began lobbing bombs.
When the going gets tough, those who cannot abandon a just cause get going. They put their bodies on the line, risking their freedom by breaking unconscionable laws in the hope their actions will inspire others to join them.
This includes 21-year-old Hannah Doole, who gained international attention for her abseiling action at the Port of Newcastle for which she’ll be tried this month, and 26-year-old Maxim O’Donnell Curmi, who spent the past four months in jail — plus copping a $1500 fine — for protesting at Sydney’s Port Botany.
How can we help these courageous people achieve their ends? Firstly, by risking arrest to join them in their most dangerous efforts. But what if that’s not you, because of age, temperament, caring obligations or a million other reasons you’re not willing to risk jail?
My idea is to sponsor a climate defender, in the same way we sponsor children in poverty overseas. Sponsors could follow and make public the journey of a particular activist — and should she get caught on the wrong side of the law, they could swarm in to provide moral and material support as required, as well as ensure her struggle is visible.
This is the least we elders can do. To show our admiration and support for the brave, mostly young people taking the risks to get the urgent action now required. So they know we’re not all indifferent to the mess we’ve left them, but that some of us are worried and really do care.